Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart by Kyle Idleman
Many readers will know of Kyle Idleman, the pastor who wrote Not a Fan a while back. Kyle is Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the biggest churches in America. His new book, Gods at War, focuses on the issue of idolatry as the one issue that keeps from following Jesus rightly. Kyle writes, “Idolatry isn’t just one of many sins; rather it’s the one great sin that all others come from….Idolatry isn’t an issue, it is the issue. All roads lead to the dusty, overlooked concept of false gods” (22). Idleman helpfully locates God’s commandment to have no other gods before me in an exclusive sense, not in some kind of hierarchy (23). The further discussion of the difficulty of naming idols in our culture is tempered with a discussion of the way idols work, taking preeminence in our lives. Idleman helpfully identifies hints of an idol in the things we pursue or the things we create that take ultimate significance in our lives.
In the chapter on the battleground of the gods, Idleman makes a helpful distinction between trash removal and dealing the heart. He writes, “How much of your life do you spend dealing with the visible garbage rather than what produces it….If you want your creek to be clean, that means going directly to the source and dealing with what’s there” (33). Behavior modification is not a long term solution to cultivate the right kind of desires of the heart, but rather like a band aid put over a gushing wound. Dealing with idols is no different. If our marriage is in trouble, setting aside a date night might be a good idea but it won’t fix the broken communication lines as a result of spending too much time away from each other. Idleman points out some questions that relate to the heart of the matter at the end of the chapter that deal with your heart: What disappoints You? What Do You Complain about the Most? Where is Your Sanctuary? Where Do You Make Financial Sacrifices? (37-38). Another introspective question might also be, “What keeps us up in the middle of the night?” All of these questions are designed at getting to the root of what we hold onto for significance, comfort, and salvation.
Throughout the rest of the book, Idleman looks at things like sex, success, money, and achievement and how these idols drain the life before our eyes. What I thought was very helpful was his Idol ID at the end of each chapter where he asked of the reader: How has life been defined by x idol, How do you define your identity, What do you want to do. I think these questions have a way of getting to the heart of the matter in our own lives. I really resonated with the god of food chapter, partly because I know that food is an easy crutch for me to lean on. Idleman tells the story of Paul Jones who at one time was over four hundred pounds, on ten medications, and was a nervous wreck. Through a series of changes, including crying out to God and those in the church, his life changed. Idleman writes, “God cannot and will not give us a sense of lasting pleasure apart from him, because it violates his purpose and our design” (90). We cannot find any ultimate solace in a steak or a potato chip, not because these things are bad, but they are not designed to fill us up the way God only can.
I thought this book was very good in pointing out the way idols have a terrorizing effect on our lives. I thought Idleman could have done more with placing the discussion of idols within a paradigm of understanding God’s gifts of sex, money, success as appropriate within the context of a renewed heart. We need a robust theology that sees God’s gifts as good, and part of that push is the cultivation of right desires for the glory of God. Overall, I think this will a book of great help to all those struggling with sin and idolatry.
Thanks to Book Sneeze and Zondervan for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.